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Rail Antitrust Case Features Rare Corporate Class Action Plaintiffs

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Thomson Reuters; May 7, 2013

(Reuters) - The U.S. class action system often unites major corporations in opposition to what they view as its excesses. But an antitrust case against the four largest railroad companies pits major businesses on both sides.

A three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments on Friday over a district court judge's decision in June to allow the case to move forward as a class action.

If affirmed, the class would include some 30,000 shippers seeking billions of dollars for alleged overcharges for a period from July 1, 2003, to Dec. 31, 2008, through the imposition of a uniform fuel surcharge.

The defendants are well-known large companies: BNSF Railway Company, CSX Transportation Inc, Norfolk Southern Railway Company and Union Pacific Corporation.

But the group of eight named lead plaintiffs also includes a major company: Olin Corp, a chlorine and sodium hydroxide manufacturer based in Clayton, Missouri, near St. Louis, with shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

The other seven named plaintiffs are also companies but less well known and not publicly traded: Carter Distributing Company, Dakota Granite Company, Donnelly Commodities Incorporated, Dust Pro, Inc., Nyrstar Taylor Chemicals, Strates Shows Inc and US Magnesium.

Public companies such as Olin rarely serve as named plaintiffs in class action cases. When major corporations file antitrust lawsuits, they typically file them individually rather than as class actions.

But the railroad case is so massive and complicated that a class action was the best way to bring legal action, said lawyers for the plaintiffs.

"The named plaintiffs, including a large company like Olin, reflect the broad interests of rail shippers in this case," Stephen Neuwirth of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said on Monday.

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